Miami-Dade County, unions making progress in contract negotiations
By Risa Polansky
Two months into the fiscal year, it looks like Miami-Dade will soon begin chipping away, if slowly, at tens of millions in losses piling up amid ongoing union impasses.
Commissioners decided Oct. 26 to cut base pay 5%, or the equivalent in holiday pay, for three of its 10 unions, which Mayor Carlos Alvarez said at the time represent more than 12,000 county employees, about 42% of the unionized workforce.
The county's solid waste employee union voted Monday to ratify the cuts, County Manager George Burgess said Tuesday.
He said he hopes commissioners can vote to cement that as soon as Dec. 1.
With that three-year collective bargaining agreement in place, the county can begin paying the union's employees the newly reduced salaries.
Miami-Dade had been spending each two-week pay period $8 million more than planned paying employees last year's salaries and benefits.
Mr. Alvarez made a dent late last month, imposing a 5% pay cut on the non-union employees he oversees.
That took the bi-weekly loss down to about $7 million, budget chief Jennifer Glazer-Moon said.
Paying reduced solid waste employee compensation takes the ongoing overages down to about $6.85 million every two weeks, she said.
The county's aviation employee union is set to vote on the 5% cuts Dec. 17, Mr. Burgess said.
If the union ratifies and the commission then gives its stamp of approval, that three-year contract would also be set.
If the labor group votes no, the commission's terms would be imposed for a year — but then those terms would become the "status quo" moving forward, meaning they'd stay in place until the county and unions negotiated otherwise, said Lee Kraftchick, chief of the county attorney's Employment Discrimination & Labor Section.
Either way, the cuts get made.
It's the waiting that eats away at county money.
The last of the three unions with commission cuts to ratify, comprising the county's general employees, is looking instead to take its case to a special master — a step in the impasse process the group initially chose to waive.
Mr. Burgess called that a "delay tactic" and said the county intends to fight it.
"We're prepared to exhaust any appeals we need to exhaust to basically avoid this prolonging of the process," he said.
Talks with the transit workers union regarding next steps are ongoing, he said.
Those of the remaining unions that chose to make their cases to special masters have hearings set for next month, Mr. Kraftchick said.
From there, commissioners would consider the magistrates' recommendations and vote on contract terms, which the unions would then need to ratify.
To make up for the accumulating deficits until all loose ends are tied — and bracing in case they aren't — the administration is coming up with budget alternatives.
Those cuts, probably mostly to services, would be recurring, Ms. Glazer-Moon said.
"There aren't one-time solutions to close a gap of that magnitude."